Sorting Algorithm Of Dance

13th January 2012

Wally: "I've decided to dabble in crime. I need some henchmen. Are you in?"
Asok: "What does a henchman do?"
Wally: "A henchman's job is to be gunned down in reverse order to his importance."
Asok: "How important am I?"
Wally: "I wouldn't pack a lunch for orientation day."

- Dilbert, strip for May 12, 2009


I took the above quote directly from the "Sorting Algorithm Of Evil" page on the wonderful TV Tropes site.


Basically, the trope (meme) says that "Villains will appear in strictly ascending order by menace.".

It's obviously an old meme - TVTropes gives the example of Beowulf.

As the story heroes fight the forces of evil, they of course get better at fighting the forces of evil. If they kept on fighting the same guys, so the fights should get easier and much shorter. On the other hand, that would both reduce the drama and would also ignore the fact that the bad guys are also experiencing "evolution in action". And, ultimately, life is about progression.

So, what about a Sorting Algorithm Of Dancing?

Well, there's a couple of ways to look at this. I'll outline them.

Choose your partner carefully

The tango codigos (specifically the cabaceo / mirada) are clear about the desired process of asking a person to dance, and about the "right way" to accept or reject a dance. But they say nothing about "who should you dance with"? Nothing at all.

So, here's how I decide who to ask to dance - I use what I guess you could call a Sorting Algorithm: my decision is based on the following criteria.

(Note: this really only applies to people I don't know personally.)

  1. Attitude
    If a woman is looking friendly, and looking like she wants to dance, that's the main factor for me.
  2. Ability
    If a woman can dance well (i.e. I've seen her dance or she's been recommended to me), that's also good.
  3. Appearance
    If she looks good, that's an additional bonus factor.

So what makes it an algorithm rather than a list?

The single important thing about these criteria is that the order matters. Rule 1 overrides Rule 2, and Rule 2 overrides Rule 3.

In fact, the only time Rule 2 becomes active is if there's a tie between Rule 1s. So, if I see two women with equally-friendly attitudes, then I'll consider their ability as a factor.

A similar process happens with Rule 3. So, if I see two women with equally-friendly attitudes, and equal abilities, then I'll consider their appearance as a factor.

There you go - that's my Sorting Algorithm in action.

Another algorithm

  • "Beginning dancer: knows nothing.
  • Intermediate dancer: knows everything; too good to dance with beginners.
  • Hotshot dancer: too good to dance with anyone.
  • Advanced dancer: dances everything. Especially with beginners."

Another way of looking at things is to look at the natural progression of dancing. We tend to dance with different types of people as we progress with our dancing, as illustrated in the above quote (from Dick Crum).

Put another way, the more experienced a dancer becomes, to a point, the more carefully they select their partners. There's a completely valid justification for this, by the way - for most of us, we get the best dances with people who are at our level or better, and obviously as we progress, that level tends to mean that our potential pool of partners reduces accordingly.

Of course, at some point of progression, the number of people better than us will shrink to an unfeasibly small number. There's no point in going to a milonga with that attitude, if no-one's better than you; you'll be sitting out all evening. (Which may explain why some teachers do sit out all evening. Seems pointless to me, but what do I know?)

So at that point - or preferably much earlier - you need to develop the ability to dance with people at all levels, and to enjoy the experience of doing so. Otherwise you'll be Trapped In HotshotWorld.

And - again referring to Dick Crum's initial point - at that stage you'll be an advanced dancer.

- David Bailey, 13th January 2012